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Public Spaces

Urbanism is good for everyone, especially kids

We assume that kids belong in the suburbs, where they've got yards to play in and great schools to learn in. But good, urban neighborhoods can produce good kids as well.

Photo by the author.

Twenty years ago, sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote in The Great, Good Place that teenagers are a litmus test for a neighborhood's "vitality":

The adolescent houseguest, I would suggest, is probably the best and quickest test of the vitality of the neighborhood; the visiting teenager in the subdivision soon acts like an animal in a cage. He or she paces, looks unhappy or uncomfortable, and by the second day is putting heavy pressure on the parents to leave. There is no place to which they can escape and join their own kind. There is nothing for them to do on their own.

What do teenagers need? The ability to get around without a driver's license, for starters. A 15-year-old who can get around town on foot, on transit, or by bike or skateboard isn't just a convenience for their parents, who don't have to shuttle them around after school. They're given the tools for their own independence and self-discovery.

So the ideal place for a teenager is probably a neighborhood with sidewalks and bike lanes, ample public transit, and one which has schools, shops, and hangouts located within close range to home. That sounds a lot like Takoma Park, Bethesda, or below-the-Beltway Silver Spring. Rockville, with its new town center and excellent bike network, isn't far behind.

Scott Doyon at the PlaceShakers blog also notes that these places give kids the valuable opportunity to make mistakes:

For a child, having increasing opportunities to navigate the world around them, explore, invent, fall down, scrape knees, make decisions, screw up, get into—and solve—conflicts and, ultimately, achieve a sense of personal identity and self-sufficiency is a good thing. The right thing.
Of course, kids who can actually get around on their own two feet might do some unsavory things. Some of the kids who walk to downtown Bethesda, for instance, might've gone to buy drugs at the movie theatre on Wisconsin Avenue. But it's not like the car-bound kids in Germantown and Olney weren't doing that, and it's a lot harder to hide destructive behaviors when you're not in a two-ton vehicle.

Five Skater Boys, All Talking But Not To Each Other, On Chestertown Street
Kids talking on a stoop in Kentlands. Photo by the author.

The first time I was allowed to go anywhere by myself was at age 8, when my family lived in Georgian Towers in downtown Silver Spring. I was only taking the elevator from our apartment to the lobby, but I was so excited I screamed the whole way down. Pretty soon, I could walk to my friends' apartments, across the street to Woodside Park, around the corner to 7-Eleven, and so on. This ended a few years later when we moved to Calverton, where there's very little within walking distance. But I still knew that I had the power to do things on my own.

My 12-year-old brother, meanwhile, has spent his entire life in Calverton. When he's not at school, he's at home playing video games, but I've noticed he doesn't have a close group of friends because they don't live nearby. Last year, I took him to walk with my former boss, Councilmember Leventhal in a parade in Kentlands, one of Montgomery County's few truly walkable neighborhoods.

"Isn't this great, Tyler?" I asked as I took him around Kentlands' Main Street, where we could see kids ducking into shops and hanging out in a little green. "Kids your age who live in this neighborhood can walk to school, to friends' houses, and to the movies! Wouldn't you like that?"

Tyler looked at me like I'd said the sky was green. "Why would I want to walk?" he replied. "Mom and Dad can just drive me there."

This Kid Will End Up On The Hood Of My Car (edited)
Outside Blair High School on University Boulevard. Kids who have to walk in a place like this likely can't wait to drive. Photo by the author.

As a result, I tend to see most of the issues I write about, from better bike trails and infill development to skateparks and curfews, from the perspective of kids like my brother. I don't just think that good urbanism can make better communities. I think it makes better kids: confident, independent, and more aware of the world around them.

We talk about how urban neighborhoods are drawing young adults and senior citizens alike. But they have a lot to offer kids and teenagers, as well. That's the great part about good urbanism: it can work for everyone, regardless of age or situation.

Public Safety

Councilmembers propose anti-loitering alternative to curfew

In response to mounting opposition to a proposed teen curfew, Montgomery County Councilmembers Phil Andrews and George Leventhal will introduce an anti-loitering bill modeled on ones used in Florida and Georgia. They call it a "better tool" for fighting crime because it targets actual troublemakers, not just youth.

Photo by the author.

"A loitering and prowling law wouldn't discriminate based on age, wouldn't be limited to late-night hours ... and would target criminally suspicious behavior by anyone," writes Andrews, who represents Rockville and Gaithersburg, in a memo.

Bill 35-11, as it's officially called, would prohibit certain kinds of "loitering or prowling," defined as being "in a public place or establishment at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding persons." It also specifies that police only take action when they "reasonably [believe]" an individual's behavior "justifies alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity."

Police must ask people suspected of loitering to explain themselves, and they also have to give a warning. Those who don't obey an officer's warning would be charged with a misdemeanor. The bill strengthens the county's existing anti-loitering laws, which were last amended in 2006 to remove the words "loiter" and "loitering."

Curfew supporters are skeptical of the anti-loitering bill. Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the upcounty area, tells the Examiner that the lack of a curfew sent a message to kids that it's "OK for you to be out there at 2 in the morning" and causing trouble, while County Executive Leggett worries that the loitering bill was "overly broad" and could encourage racial profiling.

Ironically, Leggett's concerns are the same raised by curfew opponents. Both curfews and anti-loitering laws have been criticized for being hard to enforce and subject to abuse.

Chicago's anti-loitering law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999 for violating the First Amendment right to peaceful assembly, while Newark and several suburban towns in New Jersey revoked their anti-loitering laws for using vague terms like "no loafing." And in the District, repeated attempts to ban gatherings of more than two people have failed.

Nonetheless, Leventhal is confident that Montgomery County's bill, as drafted, would be less intrusive. "I think it raises far fewer civil liberties concerns than a curfew and I prefer this approach," he wrote in an e-mail. "I think it responds to the concerns that have been raised by the Police Department," who say current laws don't give them "necessary power to prevent harm to persons or property."

Crime, including youth- and gang-related incidents, has been dropping in Montgomery County since 2007, as Andrews points out. And just as Lt. Robert Carter of the Montgomery County Police predicted in August, crime fell in downtown Silver Spring when more cops were placed on the street.

Given these circumstances, it's reasonable to say our police are doing fine. But Leggett and Police Chief Thomas Manger have put considerable effort highlighting youth crimes to build the case for a curfew, making the public fearful. As a result, the burden's on opponents to produce a more palatable alternative that still shows we're Doing Something About Crime.

It's an imperfect solution, but far less imperfect than a curfew. What Councilmembers Andrews and Leventhal have done, however, is say what we've needed to hear all along: crime isn't limited to late nights and it certainly isn't limited to young people.

If this is what it takes to get Montgomery County off the backs of its teenagers, I'm curious to hear more.

The Montgomery County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed anti-loitering bill on Tuesday, November 15 at 7:30 pm in the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. To testify or for more information, visit the Council website.

Disclosure: I used to work as a legislative aide for Councilmember Leventhal.

Public Safety

Some seek alternatives to proposed Montgomery curfew

A controversial curfew is proposed for teens in Montgomery County. Many community members are clamoring for something to be done about unruly teens, but the debate has also focused on alternatives.

Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

Last night, community members on both sides of County Executive's proposed youth curfew spoke out at a contentious meeting hosted by the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board in the Silver Spring Civic Building.

Though county officials outlined several changes to the bill, opposition remains strong. The changes include making it a civil, not a criminal offense to break curfew. The revised bill also has exceptions for teens attending sports or entertainment activities.

Abigail Burman and Leah Muskin-Pierret, high school students and cofounders of the group Stand Up to the Montgomery County Curfew questioned the effectiveness of curfews. Studies of curfews nationwide, including those already in effect in the District and Prince George's County, show they haven't reduced crime. "We need to look at the facts, look at the alternatives and give the police a real tool, not a broken one," said Muskin-Pierret.

Lt. Robert Carter, deputy commander for the police department's Silver Spring District, played videos from the night of July 1, when cops in downtown Silver Spring broke up dozens of fights, one of which resulted in the stabbing of a 17-year-old girl. The footage shows a group of 38 youth between 16 and 22 years old "walking away from a fight" along Colesville Road, near the Silver Spring Metro station. A police officer drives his cruiser onto the sidewalk, attempting to corral the kids and get them to walk to the Metro, but some of the kids duck into an alley.

Many residents pointed to this incident as justification for the curfew. "I feel that there's an increase in gang violence," said Tony Hausner, chair of Safe Silver Spring, a civic group that supports the curfew. He cited the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Tai Lam three years ago, which was connected to gang members. He said that officials in Philadelphia recently extended their curfew to 9pm in certain neighborhoods after a series of violent attacks because it had already been "so successful."

"I recognize no one likes to have their freedom restricted," Hausner added. "[The curfew] helps the kids who are good kids . . . to get them out of harm's way late at night."

Ron Ricucci, police chief for the City of Takoma Park, said youth crime wasn't a problem in his community. "Most of our kids are in Silver Spring" at night, he said, "and they come back to Takoma Park eventually. Do we have a problem? No. We have control of our kids." Chief Ricucci added that the Takoma Park City Council and residents "probably are opposed" to the restrictions, but the curfew would apply to all of Montgomery County's municipalities unless they chose to opt out.

Board member Darian Unger noted a "dissonance" between law enforcement professionals, noting Chief Ricucci's ambivalence to the curfew and opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police, who believe it would turn cops into "babysitters." "Sometimes, it's worthwhile to sacrifice liberty for security," Unger said. "But if there's no data from places that have curfews that this is worth taking liberty away, I don't see a need."

Brad Stewart, provost of Montgomery College and a former criminal justice professor, explained that most youth crimes are caused by a few "chronic offenders," which the curfew would help police apprehend. He pooh-poohed concerns that the curfew would infringe on the rights of youth. "There's a lot of talk about teenage civil rights. Well, the rest of us have rights too," he says. "We're fiddling while Rome is burning."

Stewart is right that the main problems coming from a few chronic offenders. I pointed out that the policy will apply to thousands of teens guilty of no crimes. I urged citizens and the county to put their minds together to find actual, effective solutions, rather than giving in to irrational groupthink.

But that statement was met with strong opposition from some in the audience, including Brad Stewart. It's hard to have a civil discussion about an issue that makes everyone emotional. It's especially difficult when the discussion is borne out of fear.

Jim Zepp, a member of the Montgomery County Civic Federation speaking on his own behalf, urged community members to step back and understand the problem before seeking a hasty solution. "People do these things for a reason," he said. "You need to find out what that reason is."

Zepp passed out a chart listing a variety of solutions other communities have used to combat late-night crime, including Nighttime Economy Management studies like this one for San Jose, which examine the social, economic and environmental factors that create safer areas.

Lt. Carter agreed, calling the proposed curfew "one ingredient in the cake mix." He rattled off a long list of additional crime prevention strategies, including:

  • Anti-gang public service announcements
  • Enhanced penalties for offenders
  • More funding for gang prevention, more officers, and additional investigators in Silver Spring
  • Bike cops in the downtown area
  • Security cameras, and people to watch them (The Peterson Companies, which manage the downtown Silver Spring complex, already have security cameras but the footage is only recorded and can be watched later.)
  • "Tweaking" the county's anti-loitering law, which was struck down for being unconstitutional
  • A police substation right on Ellsworth Drive, so cops could respond more quickly to any problems
  • Partnering with the management of the Majestic 20 movie theater, which draws young people
  • More Silver Spring Service Corps, the so-called "red-shirts" who keep the streets clean and tidy
  • Opening Ellsworth Drive to cars on weekends
  • Closing Veterans Plaza late at night
While not all of these tools may be the solution for crime in downtown Silver Spring, they give lawmakers, law enforcement officials and community members a broader set of options. And together, they're arguably more effective than a curfew, which Lt. Carter said would probably take care "half, most likely a quarter" of area crime.

Lt. Carter also admitted that the curfew would do nothing to prevent the majority of youth crimes that take place earlier in the day. Yet unlike a curfew, many of these strategies cost money, which in budget-strapped Montgomery County is difficult to come by.

After the meeting, I asked Lt. Carter if there were ever foot patrols in downtown Silver Spring. As part of former County Executive Doug Duncan's attempt to revitalize the area in the 1990's, he explains, there were as many as 28 cops on foot, scooters and bikes there.

At the time, downtown Silver Spring wasn't as busy as it is today, and most of those officers were eventually assigned to other parts of the county where they were needed more. Yet as downtown became a bigger destination, the police force "never caught up with the growth," Lt. Carter said. Today, there are just 6 cops on bikes in the central business district, along with another 2 officers in cars who patrol downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

The curfew, Lt. Carter said, is necessary because Silver Spring has a thinner police presence than he'd like. "Give me 24 more cops and I'll make Manhattan at Christmastime," he says. "You know how much that would cost? 6 million dollars."

It's clear that community members share a concern about crime in downtown Silver Spring and are anxious to find a solution. Unfortunately, County Executive Leggett has overlooked costlier but far more effective solutions in his eagerness to find a quick fix.

Had he proposed a package of tools similar to those described by Lt. Carter, it's unlikely that the community would be as divided as it is today. A curfew alone might give a few residents of Montgomery County a false sense of security, but without the means to understand why destructive behavior happens and respond appropriately, it won't actually make us safer.

And in fact, the curfew might detract from the vibrant life of Silver Spring.

This video of what really happens in downtown Silver Spring on a normal summer night.

Public Safety

A color-blind Montgomery County is still a myth

Supporters of Montgomery County's proposed teen curfew say we shouldn't worry about racial profiling. But in this newly majority-minority jurisdiction, race is the one thing we should be talking about.

Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Montgomery County police officer Robert Carter explained that cops don't see race:

"I understand that some cops of yesteryear judged a "book by its cover." The good news is today's Montgomery County police are part of one of the first generations of Americans to have grown up "color blind," or for that matter, blind to all bias. They'll judge these kids based on something else, something they have learned quickly on this job."
Though I'm not convinced that the curfew represents a "war on black teenagers," as Post columnist Courtland Milloy describes it, I cannot believe that Montgomery's police are all "color-blind," even the younger officers who like me grew up around diversity. After all, a curfew in Frederick County was struck down because police were using it to target black kids. As a black male, my experiences with racial profiling tell me I should be skeptical of statements like Officer Carter's that our cops can serve without ever displaying bias.

After all, prejudice is still present even in liberal Montgomery County, even if it shows up in subtle ways: the community meetings where neighbors equate low-income people with drug dealers or use coded language like "undesirables." Or the diner that kicks a black gay couple out for embracing in public.

Some would argue that class, not race is the biggest divider in today's Montgomery, especially with a black County Executive and three minority Councilmembers. But we're still far from being a color-blind society. At Saturday's community roundtable on youth issues, I talked to Joey, who lives in Four Corners and said he'd support a curfew. He won't take his family to Silver Spring at night because of "thug-looking kids" hanging out there. "And I'm not just talking about black and Latino kids," he quickly added. If we don't see race, is that statement necessary?

For years, Montgomery County has been proud of its liberal politics. Now that we're a majority-minority jurisdiction, we actually have to show our progressive values. After all, it's easy to be open-minded when the only minorities you see are the token black family on your cul-de-sac. It's harder when your kids go to a school that's 25% white and the signs in your neighborhood are all in Amharic or Spanish.

Some people are comfortable with that. The rest struggle each day to negotiate a world that doesn't look like it did just twenty years ago, unsure how to respond. Usually, they go with fear. And that can make even the most staunch liberal consider things normally offensive to their principles. Like trusting that police can pick out "bad" kids on a busy downtown street, even before anyone's done anything illegal, and not wrongfully accuse someone based on vaguely-defined characteristics.

The perennial debate over youth behavior and crime in Silver Spring has been going on for years. It's a reflection of how committed people are to ensuring that this community, once lost to disinvestment and urban decay, can remain vibrant and safe. Yet the discussion rarely touches on the elephant in the very diverse room and, as a result, can never be fully resolved.

Public Safety

"Youth cafes" could provide social and learning spaces

Montgomery County's proposed curfew and ongoing concerns about crime in Silver Spring have resurrected the age-old debate over how to keep young people occupied.

Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

County Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D-Colesville) and local non-profit IMPACT Silver Spring are trying out one solution, so-called "youth cafes" that provide an informal, supervised hangout for teens.

In April, the first of three planned youth cafes opened at the East County Recreation Center in Briggs Chaney, long one of the area's crime hot spots. There are snacks, video games, and music and art competitions, all organized by Recreation Department staff.

However, the cafe is only open afternoons one day a week, meaning some kids may not be able to go because of school or work commitments.

The youth cafe reminds me of an experiment at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia twelve years ago, in which teachers found a way to give students business skills while creating a cool after-class hangout, and filling a vacancy in an adjacent shopping center all at once. The school-run Wilde Times Cafe became a local institution, drawing teens from across Howard County. Though it didn't last long, it shows that we can give young people a place in East Montgomery County while teaching them to care for it as well.

Wilde Times Cafe occupied a space rent-free in the Wilde Lake Village Center, which had been struggling to fill vacancies for years and will soon be redeveloped. When it opened in 1999, the Washington Post noted that it filled an important role in the community in an article titled "Students Strive To Open Business; Wilde Times Cafe Takes Much Work":

The idea is to be Al's from "Happy Days," Central Perk from "Friends" and the Peach Pit from "Beverly Hills 90210." It's something that exists on screen but rarely in real life: the single cool, see-and-be-seen gathering place for all the kids in a community.

"Don't make fun of me, but I always see it as the school hangout on 'Saved by the Bell,'" said Shayna, 17. "But a 1990s version, not the 1985 one."

In suburbs like Columbia, there's a ton of stuff for teenagers to do, and at the same time nothing at all. There's bowling, movies, dinner, jaunts to Baltimore or the District, and getting chased from the Wawa off Hickory Ridge. "If we sit there and list them," said Kim, 17, "there's lots of things to do, but we've exhausted them." Been there, done that, need a new scene.

Wilde Times was open weekday afternoons and Friday evenings until 10pm; lacking a proper kitchen, they sold only prepackaged drinks and snacks. The cafe was staffed by Wilde Lake students who received class credit for their efforts. They served customers, selected what items to sell, and handled finances. An adult was always present to ensure that nothing got out of hand.

It was successful, drawing hungry students during the day and hosting concerts and open mike nights at night. Community leaders embraced the cafe, which was highlighted in Howard County's winning bid for All-American City in 2001.

Unfortunately, neighboring shopkeepers complained that the cafe's teenage patrons were running their customers away, and Wilde Times closed temporarily in March 2001 after a fight following a Friday night concert. It reopened with a sold-out battle of the bands a year later before closing permanently once Kimco, the shopping center's owner, found a paying tenant.

I'm curious how the Wilde Times Cafe model could be applied to Montgomery County's nascent youth cafes program. We may not be able to run restaurants out of community centers, but there's certainly no shortage of vacant retail space in East County that could be repurposed. It's also worth exploring how youth cafes could have programming at different times. Could they be open afternoons some days, and evenings on other days? With parents in Briggs Chaney afraid to let their kids outside due to fears of crime, having safe activities throughout the day is important.

Of course, youth programs at the rec center are only part of the solution, and the county certainly can't afford to entertain teenagers all the time. But I hope we can explore creative ways to engage young people, and teach them a few skills while they're at it, rather than just sending them home to sit in front of the TV.

Public Safety

More and varied nightlife can make Silver Spring safer

For many communities, the closure of Borders means one fewer place to read books, hear music and drink coffee. For downtown Silver Spring, whose branch anchors the redeveloped area around Ellsworth Drive, Borders was one of the neighborhood's few nightlife options.

Borders in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

That's especially relevant right now as residents discuss imposing a curfew on Montgomery County youth due to fears of late-night crime.

Like many of Borders' other locations outside of shopping malls, the Silver Spring Borders was open until 10pm during the week and 11pm on weekends. In many of the suburban communities where these stores were located, it may have been the only place open that late. In downtown Silver Spring, where you can count the number of bars on two hands, Borders gave people another place to go, making the streets livelier and safer.

Borders didn't just function as a bookstore. It's what sociologist Ray Oldenburg would call a "third place," a sort of gathering space like bars or coffeehouses where people can go solely to socialize. In downtown Silver Spring, Borders stood in for other "third places" like mega-coffeehouse Mayorga, which closed two years ago.

On top of that, the store drew people in from Ellsworth Drive seeking something to do between other activities, like shopping or watching a movie. It's likely that the symbiotic relationship between Borders and the rest of downtown Silver Spring helped it weather the first round of store closings.

Last week, while writing about Montgomery County's proposed teen curfew, I was criticized for suggesting that the county provide more activities for young people at night. Many commenters here rightly pointed out that troublemakers aren't going to be deterred by a Battle of the Bands down at the teen center.

That's true, but potential criminals will be scared off by seeing more people of all ages out in downtown Silver Spring doing legal, socially acceptable things. After all, if you're going to commit a crime, you want as few witnesses as possible.

The discussion over unruly youth in downtown Silver Spring has been going on for years, and back in 2007 I advised people who are fed up with it to keep spending time and money in the area. But people need places to spend their time and money, and the loss of Borders means there's one fewer reason for them to visit downtown Silver Spring.

The Peterson Companies, which owns the Downtown Silver Spring complex at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, could fill the Borders space with any store, but they'd do well to find tenants that stay open late, keeping the area busy at night.

Borders in downtown Silver Spring during store liquidation. Photo by the author.

The prevailing mindset among many community leaders in Silver Spring is that more nightlife means more crime. During a discussion about the proposed curfew on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, civic activist Tony Hausner argued that the 2,000-seat Fillmore music hall, which opens in September, will bring gangs to the area. (Yeah, because members of MS-13 love Cheap Trick.)

But the venue can only make downtown Silver Spring safer, because on a given night it'll bring 2,000 additional people to the area. Even if some concertgoers might be noisy or a little intoxicated, they serve as 2,000 additional pairs of "eyes on the street" to see what's going on and deter potential criminals.

The current discussion over a teen curfew for Montgomery County revolves around what young people do late at night and whether they should be at home. But the curfew was proposed to deal with crime, and should be judged on those merits. In downtown Silver Spring, where the county has spent decades trying to create a lively urban district, the best way to deal with crime is not to send law-abiding young people home but, rather, to ensure that more law-abiding people of all ages are out.

To do that, we need to have activities in the area throughout the day and into the night. The success of Borders shows that they don't have to involve alcohol or loud music. But they should give people lots of reasons, and lots of different reasons, to spend their time and money in downtown Silver Spring.

Public Safety

Teens need things to do, not a curfew

Yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed setting a curfew on teenagers under 18, raising concerns about how young people are treated here and around the country.

Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

Expedited Bill 25-11 (PDF) would bar minors from being in public in Montgomery County after 11 pm on weeknights, and after midnight on weekends. Exceptions would be made for young people coming home from work, attending a school or church activity, or those accompanied by a parent or other authorized adult, and anyone caught breaking curfew would be taken to the nearest police station.

While it's true that curfews in other cities have sometimes successfully reduced crime (PDF), many feel they are unnecessarily restrictive and discriminatory against teenagers. They also don't address what may be the root cause of teen crime, which is a general lack of things to do.

After dark, there isn't much to do in Montgomery County, which contributes to the problem. Many of the county's movie theatres and bowling alleys have closed in recent years, so teens often end up in urban areas like Rockville Town Center, downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring, where some of them get into trouble and harm others.

If there were more legitimate nighttime activities for teens, that would deter some of the illegitimate activities from happening. Parent groups often organize post-prom parties to deter drinking after school dances. Perhaps the Recreation Department or other organizations could set up similar events on other nights.

It's unclear whether a curfew in Montgomery County is actually necessary. Though Leggett's spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, claims that Montgomery has become a magnet for gang members coming from the District and Prince George's, police statistics show that youth crime in the county is decreasing.

The number of youth under 18 arrested each year has been steady for the past ten years and, in fact, fell for most of the decade. Meanwhile, the number of juvenile offenses recorded each year has fallen by 36 percent since 2001. According to the Washington Post, gang-related incidents in the county have dropped by more than half since 2007.

It could even be that the increase in public spaces such as downtown Silver Spring available to teens in Montgomery County may even be contributing to the decline in crime, since such places are effectively chaperoned by the general public. Cutting troublesome teens off from public spaces would only send them "underground" and out of sight.

Whether or not the proposed curfew would be effective, it may also be illegal. Teen curfews have faced many court challenges, often finding them to be too restrictive. In 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Lake Oswego, Oregon on behalf of four high school students, stating that a teen curfew there "criminalizes all youth" whether or not they had done anything wrong. Two years ago, a state appeals court in California struck down a teen curfew in San Diego that had many of the same provisions as Montgomery County's proposed curfew, arguing that the ban was too broad to be enforced.

There are better solutions. We can reduce crime and provide more activities for people of all ages in Montgomery County by creating more nightlife options in urban centers like downtown Silver Spring, putting eyes on the street and giving teenagers legitimate places to go.

The Fillmore music hall, which opens this fall, will do just that, putting two thousand ticket-buying people on the streets multiple times a week. More housing downtown will also keep the area populated and patrolled after the diners and concertgoers have left.

Teen curfews, like last year's county-imposed skateboarding ban in downtown Silver Spring, just punish all young people for the misdeeds of a few. What's next, mandatory summer school for everyone because a few kids flunked English?

With crime decreasing and the possibility of judicial challenge, a curfew in Montgomery County is a solution looking for a problem. There are more substantial ways to combat crime and boredom, so long as we're willing to find them.

The curfew bill goes before the Montgomery County Council at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 26, at the Council Office Building in Rockville. For more information, see the County Council website.

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